Drink driving laws have been developed in Ireland as a response to a perceived social threat against which we must collectively defend. However, I believe that there is difficulty in translating the aggregate damage into a substantial risk posed by individuals. Recent changes to drink driving legislation merely act to criminalise responsible social drinkers – and does little to make the roads safer.
The reality is that most people (including this writer) are in agreement that drink driving is dangerous and poses an unacceptable risk to other road users and therefore we accept that government must intervene. For obvious logistical reasons, people who live in urban areas with better access to public transport are more accepting of the ever more stringent drink driving rules, but it is also fair to say that those of us living in rural Ireland understand the need to dissuade those who might be tempted from driving in a state of intoxication.
On its surface, the political response to the problem seems simple: reduce the legal limit for blood-alcohol content, and drunken-driving fatalities will fall, too. However, in reality the previous limit and arguably earlier legal limits had already addressed this problem.
People who cause accidents when drink driving do not do so because they had a single small drink, or because they had a few drinks the night before. The problem rests with those drivers who pay no attention to the drink driving limits at all. However, unfortunately for the people of rural Ireland our politicians lack the ability to ‘think outside the box.’ Successive Ministers have been unable to find any new or more imaginative ways to address the problem and therefore they simply bow to pressure from various advocacy groups and simply reduce the legal limit some more. This moronic course of action has effectively closed down rural pubs, led to a significant and increasing level of rural isolation and criminalised people who are actually causing no harm, all for no significant or discernible gain.
The reality is that although drinking makes driving more dangerous, statistically speaking, the vast majority of road accidents are caused by people who have not consumed any alcohol, and the number of accidents actually caused by drunk drivers as a percentage of all accidents is minuscule. Therefore, I pose the question, would it not have simply been fairer and more effective, to substantially increase the penalties for those caught driving at the older higher levels and to introduce a system where there are severe consequences for anybody who causes an accident as a result of being under the influence at any level. In other words, offer back a little ‘personal responsibility’, allow people drive after a few drinks, but severely punish them if they cause an accident and legislate for mandatory prison terms for people who cause a fatality whilst under the influence.